Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Superfoods

I can’t resist adding a sequel to the avocado feature—in the form of a recipe. It’s fabulous!

Fresh Corn and Avocado Salad
3 cups corn, canned or fresh (if fresh, cook corn as directed and cool)
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
1 large avocado, cut into ½ in. cubes
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

Vinaigrette
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp each kosher salt and black pepper

Mix this concoction together and you have one tasty dish!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ideas to Motivate the Housebound

What can motivate when time is slow and mundane? How do I energize myself to accomplish my goals and stay active when I’m home all day? Here are a few ideas that might help.

Set a timer. At the start of every day, set the timer for twenty minutes to see how much can be accomplished in that short time. It will wake up the body, mind, and set the pace for the rest of the day.

Wear tennis shoes. This one is difficult if there’s a hard and fast rule of no shoes in the house! Wearing tennis shoes all day will make it easier to stay up and moving. It’s also not so hard on the feet.

Brush teeth often. This is especially helpful if the problem is too many little snacks. Brushing after every meal is good for the calorie control and the teeth!

Keep crunchy veggies on hand. They’re a nutritious way to keep chomping away.

Turn on invigorating music. Hey, why not dance while cleaning?

Light candles. They will bring cheer to a cloudy day and make the day feel special.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Motivation

I used to work away from home, and in many ways it was easier to limit my food intake during the day. Busyness at work, tight schedules, hours flying by—all are reasons that I found it easier to eat hardly anything.

Now that I have two wonderful little additions to my life that I am staying home to enjoy and to raise, the days don’t exactly blink by anymore. Perhaps I could get by on a salad for lunch in my working-away-from-home days, but now I have ample opportunity to pass by the pantry on the hour, especially if I’m needing an energy lift.

Staying home all day can be dull, mundane, and de-energizing. For the record, I would have made a terrible student by correspondence simply because the outside world energizes me. The inside world at times is uninspiring!

Wait! Before I get carried away here, I remember the difficulties I had with my job and that life was not always easy. I remember being so stressed out that I would come home and binge on occasion. Every job, inside or outside, has it’s challenges. What I have to do, regardless of my current status in life, is to find a way to overcome the obstacles.

Part of the solution is attitude—sometimes I just need to count my blessings! I do have some rather amazing blessing in my life, blessing that I didn’t have in my working-away-from-home days!

Another part of the solution is practical—I need to find ways to motivate myself. What a great topic to discuss! Do you have any ideas?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Antioxidants

In my college days I commuted an hour to and from school, my mode of transportation being a bright red Ford Escort I affectionately named Romeo. Romeo was charming, right down to the big red lips stickered to the back windshield. He only had one problem: in his old age of 8 years, his was losing his shine. No matter how many times I washed the car, his coat just became duller.

Then came the day that I discovered the power of a good dose of Turtlewax. I wiped and rubbed and wore out my arms, but in an hour Romeo was glistening again. With all the oxidation rubbed off the paint, he was magnificent!

There is a lot of talk lately about oxidants and antioxidants, and I’m not talking about cars. Oxidation happens naturally in our bodies, which produces free radicals. Through foods such as fruits and vegetables, our bodies obtain antioxidants, which counteract the free radicals. When antioxidants are at a low level, the reaction that occurs during oxidation can produce oxidative stress, which eventually can damage or kill cells.

Antioxidants remove the free radicals, and there has been speculation that antioxidants can help cure various human diseases, including heart disease and cancer. While studies have shown that consuming food containing antioxidants improve these diseases, simply taking antioxidant supplements provided little help.

The bottom line, I think, is that we need to eat lots of fruits and vegetables! Many of these foods contain that important molecule to fight the free radicals. I certainly want to keep my body glistening with health, and it appears that I have some control in the matter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Multitasking

They say that moms are the world’s best multitaskers. Not true. I’m a perfect example of a lousy multitasker! I can’t hold a conversation while driving or notice my daughter is marking the walls when I’m surfing the internet.

This deficiency of mine can be a curse. When I’m driving, I have to remember to keep my focus on the road or the results would be devastating. Having two children can get interesting when I’m focused on only one of them. Last week while I was feeding my son, Eden decided to transfer my neatly folded laundry from the living room to the kitchen floor. I discovered her mound of crumpled clothes, and had no other alternative than to sigh and grab the camera.

My inability to multitask can have its advantages too. I may not be able to spread my focus to multiple things, but the one task that has captured my attention usually gets accomplished thoroughly and efficiently. Unless, of course, I have been distracted—in which case it’s a disaster!

My tunnel vision can also be a blessing if it means that I focus on what I eat. One danger to obtaining good health is to eat mindlessly while doing something else—watching TV, talking on the phone, networking on the internet, reading a book. I’ll admit, eating is the one time I’m successful at multitasking, which can definitely lead to overeating.

The solutions are simple, though not always easy. If I want to munch on something during times of leisure activities, I should grab a stalk of celery. I should use my mighty focus power during my times of eating and focus on my food. I should enjoy my leisure time and my eating time to their full extent by not mixing the two.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dieting

My mom recently told a story about me when I was a little girl. One evening our family went to Arctic Circle for ice cream. Everybody ordered ice cream except my mom. She was on a “diet.” Her treat of lite ice cream was waiting for her at home.

Everyone finished eating the ice cream, and as we were walking out of the restaurant, I announced, “Now I’m starting my diet…it’s time to go home and have lite ice cream!” That pretty well sums up my dieting attempts as a child!

I know there are people who have lost a lot of weight by going on vigorously restrictive diets, but I am not a big fan of those. It’s so much healthier to make a reasonable long term change, even if it means letting the weight fall off gradually. The success rate is better too because it’s easier to stick to it.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to set a goal that might take months or even years to reach. It’s like going for a college degree or getting a new car loan—the end of the road seems so far, almost indefinite. But life goes on indefinitely until I die, and eating healthy is a journey I need to take for the rest of my life if I’m going to feel good. The things I do today will determine what I will be and how I will feel in the future.

I want to feel good five years from now. Twenty years from now. So I invest my daily intake of calories and nutrients to gain a healthy reward in my future.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Superfoods

I ate some amazingly delicious soup this week, made mostly from vegetables, and incredibly filling. It’s thick and creamy golden taste prompted me to finish off the leftovers the next day, something I rarely find appetizing. I have tasted similar soup before in a pre-made boxed version, and wasn’t overly excited about it. This week I tried doing the job myself, which was easier than I expected. The finished result has left me convinced that this soup will be a winter tradition I’ll be enjoying for years to come. I’ll even share my little concoction for you to try!

Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated margarine
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 cups cauliflower, chopped
1 medium butternut squash - peeled, seeded, and cubed
3 cups chicken stock
1 can Healthy Request cream of chicken soup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Melt the butter in a large pot and cook the onion, celery, carrot, cauliflower, and squash 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Mix chicken stock with cream of chicken soup. Pour in chicken stock mixture with vegetables. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 30 to 40 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a blender, and blend until smooth. Return to pot and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Horrendous Perfection

I recently bought a DVD of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, a production made way back in 1971. I remember watching the movie as a kid and I loved it. Several decades later, I’m not disappointed. What a great movie! My daughter loves it too.

There is one part in the movie when Mr. Krinklebein the Fish really reprimands the Cat in the Hat. Cat responds, “Very well. I'm a punk. A crotunculous shnunk…. I'm a gripulous, gropulous groo. I'm a shmoozler, a shmingler, and a foo-poobler too! I'm a horrendous object!”

The song makes me laugh, and sometimes when I’m feeling especially put down by expectations, I sing it and it lifts my spirits! It’s a light-hearted way of saying, “I’m not perfect—far from it!”

Society certainly has a certain image of perfection for women and men. Women seem to need a Barbie-doll look and men need to look rich. If I compare myself to various media’s definition of perfect, well, I do rather feel like a horrendous object!

I’m not fooled by the glamour, though, and I don’t believe most people are. We see “perfect” people with ruined relationships enough to know that their lives are far from perfect. Besides this, a certain image and look is not always healthy. Being skin-and-bones-thin certainly isn’t. If maintaining an image means sacrificing health, then the real horrendous object is the very idea of visual perfection.

For myself, I’d rather have deep peace from God, and keep my goals focused on health and happiness.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Blessings Now

My son Lance is at a very cute stage right now. He’s beginning to scoot around the living room and rolling over. His older sister Eden gets very excited when he rolls and exclaims, “He’s rolling!” in a loud voice. She also yells, “He’s awake!” when she hears him cry after his nap. She enjoys his company, and sometimes if he naps a little too long for her liking, she informs me that he’s awake even when he isn’t.

My kids are my biggest little blessings, along with my husband. I experience my little blessings all day, every day. Sometimes I forget that they are blessings. I might get stressed and overwhelmed with their constant needs and attention. But when I pause and really think about it, I wouldn’t want it different. This is being a mom, and it’s the best feeling in the world.

Regardless of the areas of life that are incomplete or need improvement, the blessings we have make our lives rich. I don’t want to get so focused on a goal ahead that I don’t notice the special treasures at my feet.

Today I was holding Lance and he was grinning up at me just before he planted an open-mouthed kiss on my cheek. These moments are precious, and the sacrifices I make for my kids more than worthwhile. I can enjoy the moment, and let the future rest now and then.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Go the Extra Mile

The rain hit us hard this week, along with the wind. When it was clear that my two children were very ready for a change in scenery, I decided that we would go out regardless of the weather. So off we trekked to the library.

On such a blistery day there weren’t many cars in the parking lot, but the first spots I would have pulled into were marked “fuel efficient vehicle parking” and I wasn’t sure if my Honda Civic qualified. So I added another fifty feet to our walk to the library and parked further down. It’s amazing how long that distance feels when I’m getting pelted by rain while trying to keep my kids together! It felt like an especially long distance when inside the library I realized I had left my library card in the car. No, I did not go back out to get it.

You have probably heard that it’s a good idea to park in the spot farthest away from a destination in order to get more exercise in our day. When I’m trying to find a spot closest to the door, however, it’s obvious no one follows that advice! Hey, I have small children! There’s always a good excuse, right? I’m definitely one for advocating getting more exercise, but when we’re on the go it’s not always easy to take the extra time to walk farther in a parking lot or take the stairs to the fifth floor at the doctor’s office.

Nevertheless, I have a bold claim to make: a person who finds the time to exercise a little each day will usually still be able to fit the rest of their schedule in. I believe this is even the case for people who believe that they don’t have time to get some physical activity into their day. Go ahead and try it to see if it’s true.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Calories

I’ve heard things like, “A calorie is a calorie,” and “Calories in, calories out.” When I hear statements like this, a picture comes to mind of an old-fashioned scale, with “calories eaten” on one saucer and “calories burned” on the other saucer. For weight maintenance, the saucers should balance each other perfectly; for weight loss, the balance should be tipped toward “calories burned.”

I do have questions about the theory that it makes no difference what you eat or how you exercise, and that it all comes down to calories. First, how do you know how many calories you’re truly burning each day? What about those people who can eat almost anything and never gain a pound? What if there are two people who eat the same number of calories, but one eats mostly fat and the other eats mostly carbohydrates? Finally, aren’t there certain exercises that help with weight loss beyond the number of calories burned during the workout?

I suppose scientists could speculate answers to some of these questions and give good guesses, but the best answer is that it really is up to each one of us to figure these questions out for ourselves. Every body is unique and responds to foods and exercise differently. I’ve spoken with people who thrive on a high meat and protein diet, while I feel so much better with less meat and more whole grains.

Nevertheless, I have learned one thing for myself that could very well apply to everyone: too many calories, especially unhealthy calories, or too few calories will hurt our bodies in the long run. That is why I am choosing to count my caloric intake each day. I am learning the number of calories and amount of fat, protein, and carbs I need each day for weight loss and generally feeling well. In many ways, I am my own doctor.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Keeping Track

When I was in school I never used to take notes. Maybe I would jot something down if a teacher said outright, “This is going to be on the test.” But for the most part I didn’t take notes because I never quite had the patience to do it. These days, I try to take notes as my children do or say cute things. Still, even with the love I have for them, I have hard time sitting and writing those things down.

So when I hear that one of the most effective strategies to weight loss and maintenance is keeping a food journal, I’m less than excited. I start for a few days maybe, then give up because it’s tedious work and not my first priority. However, if I am serious about losing weight, if I’m serious about eating healthy, and if I’m determined to show my children how to eat healthy, I really do need to make an effort.

And so I have. For the past several weeks I have been keeping a nutrition log by daily listing everything I have eaten. This log includes the amount of calories, fat, carbohydrate, and protein, as well as other nutrition information. Making it easier is a website that calculates the numbers for me, and even provides the nutritional values for common foods.

At the end of each day, the program gives me a nutrition report. This report shows how I have performed and if I have met my daily goals. I can also access a chart that shows my input through time. It’s as easy as it will get for me to journal my food without someone doing it for me.

An amazing thing has happened since I have begun. Logging has helped me stay on track. Interestingly, there are days when I feel that I have overeaten, but when I log my numbers I find I’ve fallen short. Likewise, there are days when I think I am under the amount of daily calories only to find that I am going over. I also have found that I generally need to boost my protein intake and decrease my carbs. It’s no longer easy to sneak in that extra cup of rice!

Keeping track in my head, as I used to do, isn’t always accurate. And there is something powerful about looking back over your day or week or month and seeing your effort looking back at you in a report. I haven’t felt so satisfied since my last school report card.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday Superfoods

If you’re anything like me, the texture of food is as important as the taste. One of my absolute favorite textures is a soft, smooth texture that feels like it can melt in your mouth.

The problem with foods that satisfy my appetite for soft texture is that most of them are not healthy when eaten too often. Sure, I could limit my mashed potato helping to a half cup, but who can really do that? It would only whet my appetite.

One of the problems with eating potatoes too much is that they have a high glycemic index. Basically, they give you a quick spike of sugar, followed by a crash and more hunger. They also increase the storage of fat in the body. Yikes! I don’t want that!

Foods that contain a low glycemic index help the body stay steady, less hungry, and have less cravings. Did you know that there is a highly nutritious food with a lower glycemic index that has a very similar texture and taste to mashed potatoes? It is cauliflower.

You might be thinking, Ew! I was forced to eat that as a child. Never again!

Hold on. Before you rule it out completely, give it another try. It’s surprisingly good, especially when steamed and topped with a small amount of butter or cheese. Mashing it with a little milk can also give it a creamier texture, much like mashed potatoes. Keeping the glycemic index in check might be exactly what your body needs to break unwanted cravings.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Don’t Start Over

One possible tendency for someone who is trying to lose weight is the Monday morning start-over. You eat well for say two weeks. Then comes Aunt Jane’s birthday party, followed by a neighborhood meet-and-greet party, then you’re asked to make cookies for a church function. Before you know it, you’ve blown your positive stride.

So what do you do? You might decide it’s just too hard right now to eat right and make a firm determination that come Monday, you’ll start over with a clean slate and purpose. It sounds pretty promising, but does starting over actually work? I’m inclined to say no. At least, it hasn’t worked for me.

Here is why the “starting over” plan doesn’t work: it makes you stop trying. It’s tempting to see your diet as a game where you either win or you lose. If you ate too many calories today, we’ve already lost. We may as well we may as well eat donuts, chips, and fried chicken. Right?

I don’t think so. Let’s say you outspent your daily food intake by 500 calories for the past two days. If you give up and decide to start again on Monday, you will likely stop counting calories altogether and add on another 500 without thinking twice about it. Our minds may reason that temporarily giving up doesn’t matter because we’re going to get back on track next week.

We will never lose weight or get healthy this way. We will spend the first half of next week just working off our weekend splurge. Then another temptation will come and it will much too easy to promise ourselves another Monday start-over. And so the cycle will continue.

What should we do instead of starting over? Continue in patience. Patience with ourselves that we might go over our caloric goal at times. It’s okay. Just move forward and keep trying. Remember, there is no such thing as wiping the slate clean on Monday—everything we have done to our bodies will indeed still be there.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Success Builds on Success

Sometimes I don’t feel successful. How about you? Do you have days when you want to give up? Sometimes it’s easy to quit trying so hard because we think we’re going to fail.

Attitude and perspective can play a huge role in healthy living. When we feel down, chances are that we are not going to have the strength to meet our goals.

Yesterday’s homework assignment was to think of some success in your life. Did you enjoy doing it? When life gets especially stressful or discouraging, thinking back to fulfilling moments always gives me a boost.

This mental exercise is what I call “success building success.” If you have succeeded in something in the past, you can succeed again. It’s that simple.

As little children we have tons of opportunities to succeed—learning to walk, read, ride a bike, playing sports, getting report cards or reviews, and getting positive adult feedback. As adults, however, we might not get so much applause. And yet, we live in a challenging world with many, many opportunities to succeed or fail.

Just as experience builds on experience in the working world, and credit builds on credit in the financial world, so success builds on success in the health world. If you have succeeded at the tough obstacles in a particular task, you can also succeed at getting and staying healthy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Resolution Check-up

How is your New Year’s resolution? It’s Day 13 into the new year. Are you tempted to say, “Forget it”? If it is true that only 20% of those who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep it, when does that 80% decide to stop?

I was an overweight kid. When I was in high school I think I started a new diet every January. Day 13 was usually when I dropped my diet because it was my dad’s birthday. Cake always sounded extra good after a couple of weeks of depriving myself!

Fortunately since then I’ve learned a few things about “dieting” and how strictly depriving yourself doesn’t usually work in the long run. One thing is still the same, however: sticking to a resolution or a goal is not always easy. It takes physical and mental determination.

Over the past few days there have been times when I wanted to let my daily discipline slip a little. Certainly it’s not bad to have a few extra calories now and then, but my goal at the beginning of January was to make this month a focused time of building my nutrition foundation. I wanted to reestablish eating habits that unfortunately went downhill when I was pregnant. My goal was to stick to a certain range of calories per day without compromise until Valentine’s Day.

When it’s been tough, there have been a few things that have helped me stay committed to my goal. First, my sister has been my accountability partner and she checks on me once a week. Second, I’ve seen a few recent photos of myself that I don’t like! Third, I’ve been entering my daily caloric intake at a website that gives me a daily report, and I like getting straight A’s.

Lastly, when I’ve been at my weakest motivationally, I remember an area of my life where I have been successful. If I was successful in that mountainous task, can’t I continue this daily endeavor of eating right?

That last part will be our topic for tomorrow. Today you have homework: think of at least one time in your life where you have been successful. Try to make it something that required daily commitment and determination. Keep thinking! You probably have more personal trophies than you’d expect!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don’t Clean It All

Clean, clean, clean. Wipe. Vacuum. Scrub. Work hard. Get things done. Go, go, go. Repeat. Does this sound like your life?

While housework can be healthy for you because it burns calories, did you know that leaving one job undone can actually be healthier for you? Not only that, but working less on some particular chores might be better for your home.

My husband Jay works in the appliance industry. He knows more about my kitchen than I do. In fact, he has changed the way I do things from cooking to cleaning. One of the misnomers of the past is the compulsion to scrub the dishes before loading the dishwasher. Have you ever looked into your dishwasher and can’t tell whether the load is clean or dirty because they’ve been rinsed so thoroughly?

Here is a tip for you that I learned from my husband: don’t rinse. It’s actually better for your dishes if you don’t scrub them clean before loading them into the dishwasher. The detergent has cleaning agents that target the grease and food remains. If the food remains are not there, the detergent can eat into the coating of your plates instead.

What a nice surprise! How often in life are we told that it’s better not to work so hard? Here’s another one for you: you don’t have to clean your plate at the dinner table, regardless what you learned as a child. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. If you stop when you’re full instead of forcing down those last few bites, you will keep from over-eating and help your appetite sensors to stay sharp for the future.

It’s better for us not to finish the job—that doesn’t happen very often. Let’s take advantage of these unique exceptions and keep from cleaning off our plates!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not Enough Sleep?

Are you tired today? I am. Lately, it seems I’m always tired! It’s a typical condition when you have a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old I guess.

Being tired isn’t limited to the moms with small children. I remember walking around with eyes glazed over and nearly falling asleep at the wheel when I was in college because I was so tired. Being single sometimes means you keep adding more and more activities to your life until you just don’t have time to sleep.

I’ve also know young and old people alike who struggle with insomnia. Sleepiness, tiredness, exhaustion, lethargy—all are very common problems in people’s lives.

According to WebMD, sleep deprivation affects our appetite. We have two major hormones that control our appetite: leptin and ghrelin. I have no idea how to pronounce them, but apparently they play a big part in why I feel hungry and why I feel full.

Ghrelin alerts the brain that you’re hungry while leptin alerts the brain that you’re full. Can you guess what happens to these hormones when your body is deprived of sleep? You got it. Ghrelin levels increase and leptin levels decrease—a double whammy against keeping your appetite under control.

In addition to the hormone imbalance, we also tend to fight fatigue by eating from the high-sugar department. How many times do you go looking for an energy boost by downing a piece of chocolate?

You might be thinking what I’m thinking which is, I’d get more sleep if I could! While getting to bed earlier might be the simplest solution, it’s not always possible. One great energy booster that helps the lethargy while curbing the hunger is exercise. Even a brisk ten-minute walk will help. I have found that the more I exercise, the less sleep I require. Exercise also helps with insomnia and other sleeping disorders.

Sleep is precious. If you were to rate your priorities in life, where would sleep fit in? In my book, it’s right up there with eating! It’s part of survival, but though we may get enough sleep to carry on, we still may not get enough to thrive.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday Superfoods

I almost did it. After putting the kids down for naps, I almost walked into the kitchen for a stress-induced eating spree. My emotions were telling me not to be so strict with myself—I deserve a break from being good all the time. My body was telling me that I was hungry, since I hadn’t eaten. And my mind was blocking out all the reasons I have for trying to lose this pregnancy weight. I almost gave in.

I’m glad I stopped and forced myself to start thinking, remembering why I want to be healthy. Next, it was time to work on the physical hunger. And guess what I ate. An avocado, of course! Now I can happily say that my mind, body, and emotions are back in line, and I survived my first big temptation of the year.

I read recently that women who are trying to lose pregnancy weight should eat avocados. I have also heard that they are high in fat and calories. Intrigued, I have begun to research them. Are they good for you? If they are high in calories and fat, why do they help people to lose weight?

The results I found confirmed what I’d guessed about avocados. They are packed with nearly 20 different nutrients including phyto-nutrients, which are thought to help prevent many chronic diseases. The fat in avocados actually helps absorb the fat-soluble nutrients that often aren’t absorbed into the body. They are the only fruit to contain monounsaturated fat, which helps prevent heart disease. Finally, they help health-conscious consumers meet the low-to-moderate daily fat recommendation because they are satisfying. Hey, they worked for me!

Avocados are a great way to nutritionize a sandwich. Its soft texture and buttery flavor is a perfect substitute for mayonnaise and cheese. It also works as a great salad dressing.

Avocados represent my optimal-eating philosophy: eat a nutritious, balanced, and moderate diet by consuming as many foods in their natural form as possible, and enjoy what you eat!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Change from Within

Obesity, diseases induced by unhealthy diets and habits, uncontrolled addictions—all these are reasons to get healthy. In order to make an outward change, however, something inside needs to change, or we will go right back to our old habits.

I heard recently that someone who had stopped taking illegal drugs had replaced the addiction with excessive shopping. She conquered one obstacle only to gravitate to another.

Dealing with the symptoms of a problem is a temporary fix, if it works at all. It’s like inflating a flat tire without fixing the hole. The air won’t last. We have to fix the root of the problem. We cannot just turn over a new leaf and expect it to live without a deeper transformation.

When I was in my early twenties I was dealing with some difficulties with my goals. In addition to struggling for success, I was also failing at relationships and very unhappy. I well remember the night when I looked up into the sky and asked God for help. As a result of that prayer, I had a life-changing experience. It carried over into every part of my life. I started succeeding where I had been barely hanging on, my relationships grew stronger, and, amazingly, I even lost weight. I hadn’t even asked God to help me get physically healthier. Healthiness came to me as a byproduct of internal happiness and peace.

Will power can only go so far in making a person successful. From my past experience, when I admitted I needed help and yielded myself to that higher power, that is when real change happened. The journey must start from within the heart.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Careful Who You Listen To

I read a story recently about a man and his wife who were returning home after visiting the coast. They decided to take a back road to enjoy the lush scenery of the Oregon mountains. The road they chose was quite remote, and they decided to consult with one of the local residents of a small town.

The local man startled the traveling couple when he insisted that he had heard reports that the road they were planning to take was extremely dangerous. He described it as a one-lane road, unkempt and precipitous, and they would be fools to take it.

Alarmed at the report, and slightly frustrated that they might have to return to their starting point, the couple decided to get a second opinion. This time, they checked with the sheriff’s office and found a deputy who drove the road on a regular basis. He assured them that the road was well-maintained and safe. The couple was able to travel home as planned, much to their relief.

There are plenty of people out there that make bold statements that aren’t necessarily accurate. You probably have heard the statement, “Just because you read it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.” The same applies to TV, magazines, and yes, even blogs. My advice is to get a second and third opinion, and read the opposition to the claim if there is any.

There are many diets around. Most of the time, a fad diet is just a way for someone to sell something to you. Be careful who you listen to. Diets that deprive your body of important nutrients or promise a magical food or drug are diets that should immediately flash a warning signal in your head. The best way to lose weight and avoid other health concerns is to eat right and exercise. Be sensible. It might not seem flashy, but it’s age-old advice that will work every time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Simply Organized

Every January a magazine I subscribe to sends out an issue about getting organized. I guess January is a month where people try to cut out the clutter in their lives, line things up, and give efficiency a shot.

The desire to simplify our lives probably starts when we take down the Christmas decorations. Many people I know enjoy the sparseness of their non-decorated January home. (A few others want to keep the decorations up until Valentine’s Day. You know who you are!) I have mixed feelings during the post-Christmas clean-up. I think it’s sad to say good-bye to Christmas, but there is something invigorating about having an organized house and an organized schedule again.

One of the ways I like to organize in January is to re-organize. The furniture, that is. I also like to throw out things I have not used in the previous year. That blue-and-brown vase has to go. I also like to set up new and improved routines, like exercise, food-journaling, and so forth.

One important ingredient for a healthy life is having an uncluttered life. We all know what happens when we get too busy—Stress comes with a capital S. Stress is one of the leading causes of health deterioration, including weight-gain, high blood-pressure, heart problems, headaches, and depression.

This January, while organizing our homes, let’s also think about how we can organize our lives. It could be time to throw out a stressor like I plan to throw out that brown-and-blue vase.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Unexpected Happens

I have been looking forward to the beginning of a new year for quite some time. It’s a chance for a fresh start, a time for renewing my mental focus, and a time for getting serious about losing the pregnancy weight that I gained having my son Lance. (You’d think that he would have weighed fifty pounds at birth, the way the pounds came on during the pregnancy!)

I know there are people who are not into New Year’s resolutions for multiple reasons. They don’t want to change anything perhaps; maybe they don’t want to set themselves up for failure; who knows, maybe they really are perfectly on track with their goals every day and there’s no need for improvement. I’m not one of those people. I want to better myself constantly.

It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with myself. I guess it’s more that I like setting goals and challenging myself. Mix that with my desire to try new things and you have for yourself a woman who sets a goal for herself and keeps it.

Well, tries to keep it. Sometimes the unexpected gets in the way. For instance, my goals for this month were stacked pretty solidly with work-outs and food-journaling in order to develop habits that will help me get rid of the post-partum weight. The third day in, Lance got sick. Close behind him was my 2-year-old daughter Eden. While kids getting sick might mean they would sleep more, in my case it just meant a long, sleep-deprived night, and grumpy kids in the morning. A grumpy mommy too.

I’m not exactly jumping up and down with excitement to get to the gym today. In fact, there’s a part of me that wants to skip it altogether. I have a good excuse, right?

This is the part where I need that ounce—or giga-ounce—of determination. Days like these are why I made a goal in the first place. Commitments are made for times when it is not easy to stay on track. If I were always motivated to exercise, I wouldn’t have needed to make a commitment in the first place—I would just glide into being healthy.

So regardless of how tired I am, or how awful my day has been, I am going to get some exercise in!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Fresh Start

It’s back to the old grind, and getting back into routine can be less than fun. When I was a classroom teacher the first day back from vacation was always quiet and somber. In fact, the entire first week was so quiet, I hardly had to deal with kids talking or acting out when they weren’t supposed to. It’s probably because getting back into a routine demands our full attention, and there is little left for us to have the energy to get into trouble.

Getting back into sensible eating also takes all our attention. Fortunately, January is usually a quiet month, and we can hold off on all the superfluous activities that can take away our focus on cooking nutritiously and exercise.

Grocery shopping is a chore, I think. It is also a very important part of our routine if we want to maintain a healthy life. If we want to eat the foods that are most nutritious, we really need to make a trip for groceries once a week or more. Fresh produce is one of the best ways to eat healthy. If we keep good, appetizing produce on hand, we will be much more likely to eat better.

The danger happens when we start running out of fresh produce and start migrating to the pantry. I have often heard it said that if you want to eat healthy, shop the perimeter of a store, not the aisles. Likewise, at home the non-nutritious food items tend to be in the pantry.

Not all pantry foods are bad, but it’s better to eat more of the fresh stuff and less of the prepared. It requires shopping more often perhaps, but our bodies will feel better and it will be easier to stay focused on eating healthy. January can actually be one of the months of the year when we feel better than we have in a long time.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Saturday Superfoods: Celery

I was reading through some articles on nutrition when this statement caught my attention: Don't include too much celery in your diet if you're interested in weight gain. It makes me want to run to the store and buy it in bulk!

Celery is good on multiple levels. Its nutritional value makes it ideal for losing weight and maintaining optimal health. It contains high amounts of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C and K, calcium, magnesium and potassium, to name a few.

One of the more common notions attributed to celery is that it contains “negative” calories. Celery in fact does contain calories, an estimated 6 calories per eight-inch stalk. The body burns a higher amount of calories in the digestion of celery, thus tipping the scales to the negative number of calories in the body. The number of calories burned during the digestion is not overly significant, but if you’re ever stranded in the wilderness and starving, don’t eat celery.

Celery is a great snack that will mitigate your hunger and keep your mouth happy. Since it is high in salt, place it in a bowl of water before eating. This causes the celery to absorb the water, making it plumper and crisper. Celery is also a delicious and nutritious addition to soups and meat dishes. You can also add it to rice and other grains like couscous, which will help to volumize the carbs.

Whether it’s eaten as a snack or meal enhancer, raw or boiled, celery is going to improve your health. Well, I suppose if there are a few out there who are trying to gain weight, perhaps they should stay away. As for me, I’m heading to the produce department as fast as I can!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Matter of Choice

Would you rather be A) healthy B) rich C) powerful D) perfect?

If life were a multiple-choice quiz, I would pick A. At least, I think so. What if life really is like a quiz? What if every day I am actually taking that very quiz and choosing a different answer than A?

For example, what about the choice of what I should eat for breakfast? If I were making health a priority I might pick whole wheat toast with natural peanut butter. If money were my focus, I might choose Lucky Charms because they were on sale the last week. If my goal was to feel in control I might drink coffee. If I was attempting perfection I might skip breakfast altogether because I’m just too busy getting everything else in order.

Behind the question of what I should eat for breakfast is the question—what is my priority? I do want to be healthy, but do I want something else more? Perhaps I have a goal that dominates my life and I’m not even aware of it. I might be trying to be such a perfect mom that I don’t have enough time for exercise or eating when I should. I might be spending my money trying to keep up with my rich friends, which means I probably won’t have enough left for eating healthy.

My goal this year is to be healthy and to make the decisions needed to become so. Five months ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and certainly he has become my first priority. My two-year-old daughter is right there with him. For their sakes and my own, I want to live healthy and teach them healthy living. I want to look at my daily decisions and ask myself, am I choosing health? If I want to be healthy and if I want my family to be healthy, I can make that my choice.